Researchers working in Antarctica found some species of marine life can double when water temperatures increase by only 1 or 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), according to a study published today in Current Biology.
Study co-author Gail Ashton of the British Antarctic Survey and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center said the findings were a snapshot of what might happen on a wider scale if ocean temperatures continue to rise.
“It says that both globally changes are going to be quite significant, particularly in the Antarctic and possibly the same in the Arctic,” said Ashton.
Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and billing their work as the "most realistic ocean warming experiment to date,” the researchers spent six years perfecting the technology to conduct their experiment, then 18 months in Antarctica.
“The tricky part is the ‘how’ and the infrastructure to do so,” said Ashton. “Once you’ve came up with the design and are able to do it, the hindsight is, ‘Why did we wait this long?’”
They came up with unassuming black plastic boxes that radiated a constant amount of heat between June 2014 to March 2015 in the turbulent waters near the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station, Ashton said.
The boxes looked like car batteries sitting on concrete blocks in around 50 feet of water off Adelaide Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. The researchers supplied electricity to the boxes with 100-meter cables from the shore. The work ended when an iceberg damaged the cables.
In the warmer temperatures, some organisms thrived while others didn’t take hold.